What actually happened in the B.C. election?

In the aftermath of Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberal’s surprise election victory, the spinmeisters are inevitably trying to simplify a complex series of factors into sound bites.

Two explanations are receiving prominent play in the media. These are:

  1. Clark’s victory was a referendum on pipelines and her win is a signal that British Columbians are willing to support Kinder Morgan or Enbridge.
  2. An NDP victory was torpedoed by Green Party vote-splitting.

While the oil industry, Bay Street, Alberta and Harper’s Conservatives may want to believe Clark’s victory green-lights the two controversial proposals to ship oilsands crude through B.C. ports, British Columbians know better. The overwhelming opposition to both projects still exists and people are even more resolute in making sure pipe is never laid on either project. Meanwhile, B.C.’s First Nations remain opposed and are gearing up lawsuits.

And let’s not forget: not a single pro-tanker MLA was elected on May 14. Ironically, although her “five conditions” were substantively weaker than the NDP’s position, Clark’s rhetoric was stronger. She repeatedly stated she would stand up to Alberta and Ottawa to fight for B.C.’s interests. In fact, in the days leading up to the election, her party took out full-page ads saying it was she (and Jane Sterk) who were “strong enough to stand up for B.C.”

Regardless of what pundits may try to spin now, this is clearly not a party that underestimates the opposition to these pipelines.

We’ll know whether Clark’s five conditions mean anything on May 31 when the new Clark government makes its final submissions to Enbridge’s regulatory panel. Between now and then there won’t be any new information coming forward; but just a couple weeks ago, Clark said Enbridge does not meet her five conditions.

The second explanation for the surprise Liberal victory some pundits are putting forward, particularly those friendly to the NDP, is that Clark won because of vote-splitting between the Green Party and the NDP. While it’s always convenient to point fingers at others, the numbers just don’t substantiate this argument.

Some have said if the NDP had received all the Green Party votes they would have formed government, which is like saying if there was no Michael Ignatieff or federal Liberal party, The NDP would govern Canada.

Short of a pre-election merger, no reasonable scenarios of the NDP capturing some of the Green party vote would have won the election for Dix. Consider the numbers (remember, 43 seats are needed to form government):

  • Scenario 1: If every additional vote the Green Party got in 2013 (above what they received in 2009) went to the NDP, they would have one additional seat (34) leaving the NDP seven short of forming government.
  • Scenario 2: If every vote the Green Party received above their average vote instead went to the NDP, they would have only won two additional seats (35), leaving the NPD six short of forming government.
  • Scenario 3: If the NDP had received half the Green party votes in every, riding they would have six additional seats (39), leaving the NDP four short of forming government.

Regardless of what the NDP may want, the Green Party has now elected its first MLA and is not going away. Furthermore, the numbers show that Andrew Weaver’s victory in Oak Bay resulted from bringing voters from the Liberals, not just the NDP.

The actual voting numbers clearly show the vote-splitting argument is a red herring and if NDP supporters settle on this as the explanation for their defeat, they will overlook more important factors.

So, if these explanations aren’t valid, what does explain the surprise?

The truth is that nobody knows at this point. A lot of factors influence the outcome of elections, so there will no doubt be plenty of speculation in the next few months about what caused the collapse of the NDP. In future blogs, we’ll explore a few of them. Until then, take what you read with a grain of salt.

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